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Sally Deng On Skyward, WWII History, and Supportive Parents

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII is Sally Deng’s debut book, which published earlier this year. What started as a scroll through Pinterest developed into this beautifully-illustrated passion project about three young women who wanted to reach great heights—Hazel is an Asian American living in San Francisco, Marlene is a young woman living in the English countryside, and Lilya is from a small town in Russia. Here Sally tells us all about the fascinating stories she learned while working on this book and answers questions about her creative process, how she conducted her research, and her chocolate-filled studio space.

Nobrow: How did Skyward start? Did you already have a fascination with female pilots in WWII?

Sally: “I was looking through Pinterest in college and found a vintage photo of Hazel Ying Lee—the first Asian American female pilot in the United States. I didn’t think it could be real—how could a woman, especially a Chinese American woman, be allowed near a plane during that time? I spiraled into an internet research hole and came out with a whole series of paintings and drawings inspired by these pilots.”

Nobrow: What kind of research did you do while creating Skyward? Did you get to meet any WWII vets?

Sally: “I checked out quite a few books from my university’s library, and had to dig into out of print books about female pilots from other countries. One of my professor’s mothers was a WASP pilot, and he had hours and hours of recordings of her talking about her experience. One of her stories made the book: she was in her plane, and the oil started to leak. She needed a quick fix, so she took off her shirt to clean the oil off the plane.”

(Note: this is referenced in Skyward on page 54, when Hazel has to make an emergency landing and wipe down the windshield with her blouse.)

Nobrow: Are the stories of the three girls based on anyone in particular? If so, who?

Sally: “Yes. The Asian American pilot is based on Hazel Ying Lee, and Lilya, the girl from Russia, loves to draw, which is also what I love to do. Each one is sort of representative of me in some way.”

Nobrow: What’s a favorite story that didn’t make the book?

Sally: “There was a young girl in America who wanted to be a WASP pilot. She had scheduled her physical, but knew she didn’t meet the minimum weight requirement, so hours before her physical, her mother took her to a nearby diner and she ate until she couldn’t eat anymore. She barely passed the physical, but she did eventually become a pilot.”

Nobrow: Which character in Skyward was the most difficult to create?

Sally: “The character that was the most difficult to draw was Marlene. The English women pilots that I saw photos of always looked so beautiful, like models, with their amazing hair and makeup. That’s totally not me, but I just tried really hard to make Marlene look cool.”

Nobrow: In your research, what little-known facts about the female pilots of WWII did you find?

Sally: “I learned a lot of things. First, doctors in WWII didn’t know much about the female body—all the requirements for passing the physicals were in accordance with male bodies. Also, a lot of flying was learned on the go. The pilots didn’t have time or proper training to learn how to fly each air craft. The UK pilots (the ATA) had manuals they would tuck in their boots, basically ‘Flying This-Type-of-Plane 101.’

In America, many of the women who were pilots came from wealthy families who could fund their pilot lessons, but for those who weren’t, they had to go back to civilian life with little hope of having the money to continue flying on their own. In a lot of their interviews, the women pilots didn’t want it to end. They wanted to keep flying.”

Nobrow: What’s your ideal drawing space and what kind of snacks/beverages does it include?

Sally: “I just moved to a bigger shared studio space, but it doesn’t have windows like my last space. So windows and plants make the space ideal, and I always have chocolate around—it’s probably a vice.”

Nobrow: When did you start drawing? What’s pushed you to keep going?

Sally: “Ever since I could remember. My parents told me I started holding a pencil at 3. My parents really supported me from a young age with drawing. When I was a bit older, I couldn’t sit still, and I kept bothering them, so they sent me to art lessons. When I was trying to choose between colleges, my dad saw that I was hesitating between a studio art school and a regular liberal arts college. He encouraged me to go to the art school. I’m really lucky in that way.”

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII is out now. Find a copy at www.penguinrandomhouse.com or www.flyingeyebooks.com


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Come See Luke Pearson, Hilda, and a giant Woff at New York ComicCon
New York ComicCon is coming soon, and we’re so excited to be there for the new Hilda Netflix Show (which premiered Friday, September 21st)! NYCC runs October 4-7 at Javits Center: 655 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001. We have quite a bit in store for Luke Pearson, so get your schedule marked for the show itself, or for some of our great offsite events! We’ll be at ComicCon booth #125 all weekend along with a six foot stuffed Woff. Here are the details on Luke Pearson’s schedule for the weekend!

 

Luke Pearson’s New York ComicCon Schedule:

-Friday, October 5th

Signing at booth #125

3pm-4pm

 

-Friday, October 5th:

Graphic Novel Superstars at Books of Wonder

18 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011

6pm-8pm

 

-Saturday, October 6th

Storytime at Books Are Magic

225 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231

2pm-3pm

 

-Sunday, October 7th

From Page To Screen Panel @ ComicCon

12pm-1pm

Javits Center, Room 1A21

 

-Sunday, October 7th

Signing at booth #125

1pm-2pm

We’ll have the Hilda Graphic Novel series for sale, along with Hilda and the Hidden People, and we’re also giving away a limited supply of Hilda dolls with purchase of five of the graphic novels, so don’t miss out.

 


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Me and My Fear Goes Back to School!

 

Summer’s almost over and kids are headed back to school, and with that, there are new friends to make, and new stories to hear. In Me and My Fear (out now in the UK, US & Canada), a young immigrant girl starts school in her new country and has to face the challenges of making friends, learning a language, and overcoming her companion Fear, who perches on her shoulder every day—trying to keep her safe.

Me and My Fear is based on research that creator Francesca Sanna did in classrooms—asking children to draw their fears and encouraging them to talk about what made them afraid. To accompany this book, we’ve created a classroom guide, complete with activities and levelling information for teachers, students, and librarians to use for this upcoming year. You can download whichever version applies to you at the links below.

US Classroom Guide

UK Classroom Guide

We hope that Francesca’s experience working with immigrant children will provide depth to your classrooms and conversations this year!

Author’s Note:

“I am a very anxious person, and at times when working on this book, my fear would grow too big and grip me too tightly. I would not have succeeded without the precious help of many people. Firstly, I would like to thank each and every child I met in schools and libraries, who was willing to share their fears about being the new one, the different one, the one from another country. They helped keep my own fear from growing too large.”—Francesca Sanna

Praise for The Journey

Many of you know Francesca from her brilliant debut picture book, The Journey. With six starred reviews, and acknowledgement on Best of lists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Public Library, The Journey moved readers with the illustrated story of a family forced from their homes, gently introducing children to what it means to be a refugee. Now, Francesca brings us into the story of one young girl, overcoming her struggles to feel at home in her new country.

“This heart-stopping, visually sophisticated story of a happy family suddenly forced to flee their home because of war evokes the dark danger of fairy tales to present the stark realities and enduring hope of modern refugees.”
The New York Times, Notable Children’s Books of 2016

“Direct in language and lush in colorful illustration, this poignant picture book for readers ages 6-10 nurtures compassion for real-life refugees.”
The Wall Street Journal, The Best Children’s Books of 2016

The Journey offers a beautiful message to readers — young and old alike — about the difficulties of finding a new home, and the value of welcoming strangers once they arrive.”
The Washington Post

“A necessary, artful, and searing story.”
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“The innocent voice and dramatic graphic-style illustrations tell a harrowing, haunting, yet hopeful story of a family’s search for a place to call home.”
School Library Journal, Best Picture Books of 2016

“Given the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and immigration debates in the U.S. and abroad, Sanna’s story is well poised to spark necessary conversations about the costs of war.”
Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW